Californians tire as storms force another round of evacuations

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Evacuation orders were in effect, announced late Thursday through social media posts and through local police department speakers. Another storm was approaching. Residents had to get to safety.

As with the previous storm, Cesar Leon, 39, director of the Salvation Army shelter in the small agricultural town of Watsonville, helped bus his well-wishers to an emergency facility at the nearby fairgrounds.

This time, however, the mood was different, he said: “They didn’t want to leave because they only did it a month ago.”

It’s been a brutal winter for much of California, where areas battered by a series of atmospheric rivers — storms named for their long, narrow shape and the immense volume of water they carry — have grown weary to live with the constant specter of floods.

Another strong storm system hit the state on Friday, particularly the central region. The storm stranded residents, washed away sections of roads, turned snow into freezing mud, prompted evacuations, caused power outages and contributed to at least one death. President Biden approved an emergency declaration application by Gov. Gavin Newsom authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts in more than 30 counties.

In places like Watsonville, a Santa Cruz County city of about 50,000 used to fog and cool temperatures, there was a chill of “not again” every time bad weather approached.

“This time of year people panic,” said Alex Lopez, 54, who is employed at a local farm that harvests lettuce and broccoli. “It’s time to work, not to be at home. People are losing money.”

Mr. Lopez, who grew up in the area, recalled playing in the water during storms a few decades ago, floating down the river in a tube.

The onslaught of recent storms in recent months has taken a toll on crops and workers. The wet winter has caused farmers’ fertilization and harvesting schedules to become muddled. Mr. Lopez has noticed that the lettuce is growing too slowly.

“The last two floods were all over the fields and all the roads,” he said. “You couldn’t go through.”

The latest storm began Thursday night with heavy rain in the Bay Area and is said to have contributed to the collapse of the roof of a warehouse in Oakland used by Peet’s Coffee. A male employee died and a female employee was injured.

Nancy Ward, director of the California governor’s office of emergency services, said about 9,400 people across the state were evacuated and more than 54,000 utility customers were without power.

Monterey, a former fishing village better known today for its sunbathing California sea lions and famous aquarium, has been offline since Thursday night with no working traffic lights and only darkened windows in shops and homes. Heavy rain and howling winds killed some trees and branches there overnight.

Palisades Tahoe, a popular ski resort north of Lake Tahoe where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held, announced on Twitter that it would close on Friday “due to high avalanche danger and flooding.” The resort said winds had reached 139 mph at the mountaintop and that rain was falling at altitudes of up to 8,500 feet – a testament to the warm downpours of atmospheric flow following weeks of snowstorms in the region.

Crews in South Lake Tahoe spent the week clearing snow from the streets, but for a while Friday they had to focus on removing the snow and ice that was blocking storm drains and causing flooding in the city.

As the storm moved south, residents of a huge swath of the state’s central region were on high alert for flash flooding.

The tiny coastal town of Soquel was home to hundreds of residents caught when a creek burst its banks and washed away part of a main road that was the only access route for a mountain community.

About 150 miles inland in Fresno County, a dark sky stretched across fields drowned in torrents of rain. Farm crews worked to pump water away from crops. An RV site was evacuated due to flooding from the fast-flowing Kings River.

Planada, a small town in Merced County that suffered some of the worst flooding from California’s storms in January, was also under an evacuation order. Two months ago, hundreds of homes and cars in the small farming community were destroyed during an atmospheric flow.

“Everyone is scared right now,” said Rodrigo Espinosa, a district manager representing Planada, nine miles east of Merced. “You don’t want it to happen again.”

Officials said flood control levees on major streams near Planada are expected to reach their maximum capacity by Friday night.

Worsening bad weather in a drought-stricken state led to Mr Newsom on Friday announcing an executive order that would take advantage of California’s vast snowpack and at least two other atmospheric flows expected over the next few days. By relaxing state rules, the order allows local water officials to more easily divert floodwaters to replenish the state’s severely depleted groundwater supplies.

The move comes after criticism that repeated rainfall in California this winter flushed trillions of liters of water into the sea. Water officials and experts say the state’s strict rules restricting who can draw water from creeks and streams have barred local authorities from collecting the excess flows, even though stored water is badly needed to prepare for the state’s next dry spell to prepare. The executive order went into effect on Friday and will apply until June 10.

In Southern California, the rain had many residents of the San Bernardino Mountains bracing for what it might do to the thick blankets of snow that blanketed rooftops. A historic amount of snow fell in the mountains in the past two weeks, clogging roads and locking in local residents. Homeowners spent part of the week clearing whatever they could before the rain intensified the snow on the roof, potentially causing burglaries.

Rains eased in Watsonville on Friday afternoon, where sandbags lined garage doors and many people had stayed home despite the evacuation order. There was an atmosphere of calm in the town, and even some curiosity, as residents emerged from the edges of the levees to get a glimpse of the raging waters.

On the outskirts of town, a few farmers had turned up to begin sweeping away mud and debris that were blocking the roads leading to their strawberry farms and apple orchards.

The furrow-lined fields had become vast pools of water again.

Soumya Karlamangla, Jesus Jimenez, Holly Second, Vic Jolly, Jill Cowan, Alex Hoeft And Judson Jones contributed reporting. Californians tire as storms force another round of evacuations

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